Sensuous Housekeeping

We devour books like Spark Joy and The Magical Art of Tidying Up because they teach us how to groom our homes and keep them free from clutter. Yet we want much more than a spanking clean closet and a living room that’s easy on the eyes. We hunger for a rich and sensuous rapport—an ongoing love affair with home that makes us want to hunker down and never leave it. I’m talking about the eros of the house. The sweet comfort of your belongings. The joy of creating a warm and welcoming space. The whimsy of dancing with a broom or mop. How can we get in touch with this?

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illustration by Ann Arnold

Over the years, I’ve lived in a variety of homes, from a Manhattan apartment to a white-washed bungalow on a Greek island, from a colonial farmhouse in the Hudson Valley to a magical cottage in the California redwoods. I’ve learned how to put a home together quickly, unpacking the kitchen and putting pictures on the walls within two days. Not to satisfy some crazy notion of perfection but because home is as essential to me as life and breath. Think back to the homemaking rituals of your grandmother’s era. The white sheets flapping in the wind, a well-dressed table, the gleam of the tile floors, the golden fruit from the orchard in well-stacked Mason jars. A time when the words earth, hearth, and heart were as one. This what so many of us, with our crowded lives and cramped schedules, have forgotten: If we care for the house faithfully, in return it cares for us.

Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting we turn back the clock. No need to beat the rugs, scour the oven with steel wool, or do the laundry by hand. But we can be more mindful of how we approach the home. So how can we make tending it a wonderfully sensuous, even spiritual, practice?

Housework as Poetry

The answer is in the quality of our attention. If we approach our daily asks with deliberation, this changes everything. These are no more “chores” only opportunities for eros and enlightenment. With the right attitude, we can find grace and beauty while polishing the furniture, washing the windows, and tidying the living room. We might also discover something really radical: that housekeeping has a rhythm of its own. Like a chant, or a form of lyric poetry. If you mop a floor until it glistens like the surface of a lake, or oil a wooden table, working the amber liquid into the grain in slow deliberate strokes, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke enjoyed donning his maid’s suede gloves and dusting the furniture in the wee hours of the morning. Touching all the swirls and crevices on a hand-carved table was, he felt, an extraordinary act of intimacy. Like caressing the body of a lover. “After this,” he said, “there’s nothing that you do not know!”

Yes, housekeeping can be annoying when you’re on overwhelm. Yet if you stop and approach it mindfully, it can also be a source of revelation. An initiation into the secret lives of your possessions. A playful, intimate exchange that can buoy your spirits.

If you dread doing the laundry or putting away the dishes, here’s one prescription. Acknowledge your home and thank it for contributing to your self-renewal, your creativity, and your close relationships. Treat it like a living, breathing organism. And see what happens next.

Valerie Andrews
Valerie Andrewshttps://reinventinghome.org/
VALERIE is the Chief Storyteller for Reinventing Home, an online magazine exploring how home shapes our culture, creativity, and character. Isabel Allende calls this publication Brain Pickings for the Home—a thinking person’s guide to the well-lived life. Our contributors explore home as a personal sanctuary and interactive hive, and how home contributes to our health, happiness, and productivity. Valerie calls her own features “a mindful approach to home with a Jungian twist” and considers everything from the secret lives of our possessions to how the dust underneath your bed is related to the creation of the cosmos. Reinventing Home is nonprofit journalism at its best—a virtual living room for an enlightened conversation about the way we feel about our nests and the bigger issues that are shaping home today, from technology to climate change. Read more at www.reinventinghome.org
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Susan Rooks

Ah, Valerie, you have no idea how much I love this! Like you, I have lived in several homes (although never one overseas!), but until I bought this tiny (525 s.f.) cottage near Cape Cod, Mass., four homes up a small hill from Buttermilk Bay, I hadn’t known how much I loved nesting. How important it was that each piece reflect me, my background, my memories, my values. Everything here speaks to me; probably 80% came with me after two other downsizings in the last 10 years.

Yes, I’m now much neater than I was, but seeing the house (all open) gives me great joy. Housework is quick and easy, and gives me pleasure to see things clean and where they should be.

Thanks for a wonderful article, and of course, I’m heading over to your website right now!

Larry Tyler

I love a clean house and I am always rearranging things. Clutter free and simple although I do have a lot of books.

Laura Staley

What a delicious invitation you’ve created here in this article, Valerie! I often encourage my clients to touch their belongings with love and tenderness. They can also take a moment to relocate them as they clean. Sometimes rearranging these items, placing them in a new location inspired by the Bagua Map can allow them a fresh, “new” life. Cleaning can be challenging when there’s an overwhelming amount of belongings in a client’s space. Letting go courageously and cleaning can be a lovely, heartfelt, delicious dance of liberation and gratitude.

Darlene Corbett

Lovely article! I agree that our home is our haven, temple, and Castle. As it takes care of us, we should be mindful and treat it with reverence.💖

Noemi Zarb

I love the resonance of the village concept of life you weave through your article. At the same time I believe that the unknown inventor of the washing machine deserves VIP treatment in heaven.

The love and care we put into our homes is an extension and not merely a reflection of ourselves and since I have done some small scale interior design projects over the years, I share your passion for a home that is truly a sanctuary of our lives – past and present hurtling into the future.

The element of whimsy that always colours and energises your articles is very much in tune with your mission of nest building. A heartening message which I hope will resonate with so many people living lives racing against the clock and goad them on to realise that creating a home and tending a family are one

Teresa Young
Teresa Young

Ah, Valerie, you’ve seduced us again with this soulful, wonderfully expressed rumination on caring for home. What a breath of fresh air. Thank you!

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